I have never been able to paint 
        what I set out to paint.
                                —Edward Hopper 

Sometimes, I never consider putting figures in 
        until I actually start painting: 

none ever appears in their preparatory sketches. 
        I'd prefer to leave them out. 

As an illustrator, I was always taken by archaic 
        shapes of architecture or remnants 

of ancient nature, but the editors wanted fiction—
        people placed on the page, waving 

their arms about.  And even today, as late summer 
        rain again blurs these scraps 

of landscape that now fill our window—the sprawl 
        of pasture, thickening grassland 

spilling toward those low rolling hills beyond 
        a shallow pond—I also think 

once more of an earlier August night in Nyack, 
        though not so very long ago, 

and how those lovers I thought I saw embracing 
        on a neighbor's lawn remain, 

somewhat vaguely in my faulty recall, shaded 
        beneath wind-shaken limbs 

of an old oak, while its serrated silhouette is still 
        traced distinctly in my mind 

against an implausible light of stars yet drifting 
        across a moonless sky.  If only 

truth were so easy to depict with such details; 
        nothing I know, I can assure 

you, is really like the scene I remember here. 
        Instead of invented narratives, 

I'd hope viewers notice contrast caused by sunlight 
        brightening an empty room, 

the bleaching of a beachfront cottage facade 
        under summerâs noonday flare, 

or the softening of solid objects during dusk. 
        Thus, I must mix imagination 

with any of my memories.  I find, in working, 
        always the disturbing intrusion 

of elements not a part of my most interested 
        vision.  So, I will fill this spare 

setting the way I often have before: the couple 
        are now outside a closed door 

and caught in another conversation that cannot 
        be heard by anyone else; each 

leans back supported by a front porch ledge; 
        the bare floor of this porch 

is squared by glare of an overhead light forming 
        corners; the horizontal slats 

of stark white siding are sliced by sharp lines edging 
        a window sash or door frame; 

twin entrance columns are darkened, wedged 
        in shadow; the walkway approach 

to the porch steps is lost in nightfallâs black border. 
        After all is done, some may say 

the young woman in this painting appears unhappy 
        or reluctant and the young man 

seems to be offering an explanation or attempting 
        persuasion, that these two represent 

tension and express discontent we/ve all experienced. 
        But I know none of this is true. 

Although others can endlessly speculate about 
        the troubled lives of both figures, 

their personal story was not a real concern for me 
        nor what I most wanted to show. 

It is an exercise in composition and form: merely light 
        streaming down, the night all around. 

[ First appeared in Ekphrasis


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